The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey

Chapter Fourteen: Fair Avalon

        Sara flew westward, with dawn creeping up behind her. She dared not go too fast or too high in concern for her delicate and helpless cargo. Gundolf's directions had been approximate at best and she suspected that her destination was none too large or easy to find. Her far-ranging senses scanned well past the horizon around her, but there was a limit even to her abilities. How far would be too far if she were off by even a few degrees? How far could the frail-looking ships of the Elves be expected to venture into this trackless ocean? Worlds were very big up close.
        She'd been making two-hundred knots for nearly ten hours without spotting anything when she finally decided that she'd gone as far as any primitive boat could possibly dare. She pushed the wooden casket out in front of her, carefully adjusting its attitude and aspect and her speed until it seemed relatively stable in the rushing hurricane of her passage, then let it go. She came to an abrupt stop and the box arced away from her at its terminal velocity toward an inevitable splashdown in somewhat less than a minute.
        Satisfied that it wouldn't tumble or pop open, she shot straight up, punching entirely clear of the atmosphere in seconds. She didn't take the time to do more than take a multi-sensor snapshot of the much wider circle of the planet below before immediately plunging back down to her free-falling passenger, slowing as she approached to avoid creating a box-bursting shock wave. She cradled the casket carefully and decelerated gently, leveling out a few hundred feet above the wave tops.
        Already, she was reviewing the detailed analysis provided by her 'computer brain' from her briefly higher vantagepoint. There was a group of islands ahead of her and just slightly to the right that she would have spotted in only a few minutes. There was also something else brought to her attention, an extensive area just beyond her sensor horizon to the south of her path that she'd passed nearly an hour earlier.
        Visually, there was nothing to see, just another featureless expanse of white-capped ocean beneath puffy clouds. But there was a subtle gravitometric anomaly and a complex infrared signature that signified land. A hidden land, somehow — a stealth island.
        Bingo. She turned toward it with as much speed as she dared.
        Nearly twelve hours after leaving Gundolf, she approached a glittering city of Elvish dwellings that clung to the side of a mountain rising from a misty sea, invisible to casual navigators who had not the luck to stumble almost directly upon it. Amidst a clutter of observatories and academic-looking buildings crowding a flat mountain summit on one end of the island rose a sturdy tower of white marble, topped by a device that evidently broadcast an aura of confusion upon the surrounding waters. An anti-lighthouse, in effect.
        Most of the enormous island was covered in lush greenery, forest and meadows. White sandy beaches alternated with craggy seacliffs over which the issue of bubbling springs deep in the interior cascaded into the surf below, surrounded by clear rainbows. Paths wound in and out of the rolling coast and through the sheer inland mountain passes. There was a blue, sheltering lagoon on one side of the island and a snug harbor on the other into which the foot of a city of bright buildings flowed down the gentle shoulder of the flat-topped maintain. This was surely an earthly paradise if one were possible.
        Her breaching of the island's magical security had raised an alarm, and several figures on the parapets of the tower watched her intently, signaling to those below as she made a slow circle around the plateau looking for some suitable landing spot. One building near the summit stood out as a likely central gathering place and seat of whatever council the city must have had. There was a flurry of activity as many of the inhabitants of important-looking dwellings nearby hurried to join an impromptu session in its large public chamber. Sara made for it in a roundabout way to give them a little time to prepare for her, trying to seem as non-threatening as possible for some flying apparition carrying a coffin. As she slowly drifted down from over the rooftops to a landing in its immaculate courtyard, a solemn delegation came forth to meet her.
        They were Elves, all right. Tall and fair, beautiful and ageless, fantastically arrayed in every manner of colorful raiment. They did not seem to be overly alarmed at her unlooked-for appearance, but certainly didn't seem particularly overjoyed to see her, either. They arrayed themselves in haughty splendor in front of the building as an imposing spokeswoman stepped forth, both arms upraised in an unmistakable gesture of warding.
        "Descend no further. Do not dare to touch the sacred soil of Avalon unbidden. Away with you and your burden of corruption. Go hence from these shores and this environ. You are not of the Chosen. We want not of your delegation. Depart."
        Sara stopped short, hovering a few inches above the cobblestone pavement. Well, she couldn't really blame them for being a little suspicious, considering the current state of affairs in Midgarde. Somehow, though, she'd imagined Elves would be a little more hospitable.
        "Hi. I'm Sara Corel and I'm very pleased to meet you. I'm kinda new to your planet but I've read the stories and I've been sent here to help out. This is Tim Bimbadel and he's not really dead yet so I've brought him to you for safekeeping or the wolves would get him. I guess he's really important 'cause of him being some kind of 'spirit of song' and all that and you guys can probably figure out what to do with him. Uh, where do you want me to put him? Oh, and, uh, Gundolf sent me."
        The Elf Council tried not to show anything but grim determination, but Sara noted the sharp intake of breath and widening eyes when she said Tim Bimbadel's name, and the suppressed shudder when she mentioned Gundolf.
        "What manner of sending are you?" demanded the Lady of regal bearing. "Gundolf is known to be lost and serves a new Master now. You cannot suppose we will embrace you on that recommendation."
        "He's still holding out, along with Eldron and Lady Gladariel. They're either maybe a little crazy under the strain or sorta mega-depressed like Gundolf, but they're tough. When I left them earlier this morning, they were pretty much OK, but I gotta get back real soon 'cause of the wolves. And — oh, yeah," she said, looking down, "There's some things I have to do, so I can't stay long. Look, do you mind if I set him down? I feel awful silly trying to carry on a conversation like this."
        Despite their stern faces, Sara could feel their shock and grief. These people hadn't had any good news in a long time.
        "Gladariel. Eldron. Gundolf. The bearers of the Three. Their torment must be unimaginable." The Lady bowed her head for a time, while the courtyard rapidly filled with Elves from the town below, milling about in consternation as word swept through their ranks.
        Sara told them, "They kept his body safe as long as they could," indicating the coffin, "and Gundolf's first errand for me was to bring him here. Please, can you tell me where I can put him?"
        Another of the Counselors stepped forward. "Let me examine him. I was oft a visitor at his hearth and sang long hours by his side as we roamed the ancient woods near the Westshire." Sara lowered the box as much as she could without touching down and he undid the hasp, lifted the lid and peered inside. At the sight of his old friend, the Elf turned pale and trembled visibly. He reached inside to touch him lightly.
        "He's still alive — barely," said Sara, softly. "I flew as low and slow as I could and tried to keep him warm with a little infrared."
        The Elf turned around and solemnly announced, "It is he and he yet lives."
        A sigh crept 'round the open courtyard, made up in equal parts of relief and regret, apprehension and uncertainty.
        He turned back to Sara and said, "I should thank you, Sara, for bringing our friend to our isle. But you must understand that such an act may prove to be disastrous. When our ancient Enemy has finished His evil work in Midgarde, He will certainly come for this place at last. Those who bear the Three could guide you here, and they will not fail to guide their Master as well, no matter what the power of their wills. He will not release them until they serve His designs.
        "And of you, we know not. I must say this — you are most unwelcome here. You are not of our people and this refuge is for us alone. You bear more than our dying friend. Fell news and discovery are your tidings, as well. You have made us naked. What are we to make of you?"
        "Look, I'm only trying to help. I didn't ask to come to your world, and it wasn't me that messed things up. I'm one of the good guys sent by — oh, I don't know — space aliens or something — to kick this bad guy's butt. And I can do it, too. I don't think your local magic can touch me, and I don't have to worry about anything on your planet being able to hurt me at all. Gundolf knows all about me from those 'wispy tendrils' he listens to and says that, like, what I am, turns up on planets all over the place, sorta like a gift. Or sometimes a Protector, like now."
        At the word 'Protector', a gasp ran through the crowd, and the Councillors turned pale.
        She went on, "You people are supposed to be Elves, right? Well, lighten up a little, OK? I don't even know who I'm talking to, here, and I'm getting pretty tired of hanging around like a yo-yo on a short string. You gonna do something about your friend, or what?"
        The Elf Councilor replied, somewhat coldly, "Do forgive me, Sara. Our manners are amiss."
        He motioned to an honor guard of waiting Elves, who carefully took the casket from her and bore it reverently into the Council Hall.
        Following a moment of respectful silence, he turned to her and said, "I am Lanselaut of the High Council and this is Lady Gwenafir, who serves us as our leader."
        "Pleased to meet you. I think."
        Gwenafir spoke, "I say to you once more. There is no place ordained for you here. You cannot soil our Sacred Isle with your unclean presence. Begone at once."
        "Whoa. That's pretty harsh. Gundolf said I was supposed to talk to you…"
        "Gundolf," she said derisively, "the architect of disaster. That he sent you is condemnation enough. That he sent you bearing a symbol of the dying of all our songs is cruel mockery."
        "It's not that way at all. He's nobody's stooge yet, and knows I can't be made to spill the beans about your little island. Heck, his directions weren't all that good. I had to practically leave the planet to find you guys, and I don't think anyone around here is up to the kinds of sensor input I've got. Besides, he made sure to burn the last ship rather than let it fall into the wrong hands."
        "Only his death will keep his secrets. He fails us by living," said Gwenafir bitterly.
        "I'm beginning to think his life is worth all the rest of you snobs put together," Sara retorted. She sorrowfully added, "And, anyway, he wants me to, uh — well — like put him and Eldron and Gladariel out of their misery when I get back. Rather than go on in slavery to the One Ring."
        Lanselaut was obviously taken aback, "You would do this? Commit such a horror? Eldron and Gladariel — oh, this is monstrous. And yet you say you are against the Great Evil. See how you serve your Master while denying Him?"
        "Oh, crap. You oughtta try to imagine what they're going through. Believe me, it's no Paradise Island back there. His — their — living sacrifice while the rest of you skipped out should make you people feel ashamed of yourselves. I promised to take their stupid Rings, and that means they'll be released."
        Gwenafir added, "And that means they'll die, indeed. And what of the Rings, then? If such a thing is surely in your power, do you think to merely toss them aside like cheap trinkets?"
        "No way. I'm gonna get the rest of the lot — the Seven from the Dwarves and the Nine from the Nazghoul. Then I'm gonna pay old Redeye a visit and deal with Him and His precious Ring, too. Gundolf laid it all out for me."
        "One fool's errand followed by another," said Gwenafir. "Why not. The end comes a little sooner than later, and we must attend to our own business until that time. If you are, as you have said Gundolf told you, a Protector from the cryptic keepers of the Cosmos, then there is surely no escape for any of us. We know of these portents and legends as well as he, and understand now our doom."
        "What doom?" said Sara. "You must not be listening. I can deal with this. That's what I was made for. And I'll bet you know it as well as Gundolf."
        "We know what we know. And no more will we say, for knowledge is the destroyer of fate," said Gwenafir.
        "Where have I heard that before?" muttered Sara.
        "Now," cried Gwenafir with authority, "Be you gone! Accomplish your misguided destiny. Up with you, up and away!"
        "Yeah, yeah," said Sara, "I'm leaving. I don't know why I wasted my time with you selfish jerks. Elves! Some 'noble race'. You'd just better take good care of my boyfriend in there, or I'll be back."
        She shot into the air, looped around and buzzed the island on her way back east fast enough to leave a highly annoying sonic boom across the city in her wake. Avalon disappeared behind her.

        Sara returned to the last Elvish haven in mid-afternoon. Gundolf was in the study and looked up morosely as she entered. "I trust you found Avalon and accomplished the first part of your mission?"
        Sara nodded, "Yeah. Swell people, those Elf friends of yours. Not exactly what I expected, y'know? Pretty place for maybe a three-hour tour, but the natives are rude. They don't send their love. What was so important about me having to talk to them, anyway? Was I supposed to learn something from them?"
        "You have learned what you have learned. It will suffice. More I will not say, for knowledge is the destroyer of fate."
        Sara cocked her head, "That's the third time I've heard that since I've been here. I guess there's something you don't want me to know about. You really think that's a good idea?"
        "I am bereft of good ideas, it would seem."
        "Well, Gwenafir isn't too crazy about your plan. I guess I came off as awfully cocky, but she doesn't think I'm up to the job of getting rid of your bad guy."
        "It is a reasonable surmise. She knows that even His defeat, should you accomplish it, is now irrelevant. You must undertake all these things only to make it possible for you to fulfill your ultimate destiny as a Protector."
        "Well," she thought out loud, "That's perfectly unclear. I guess that's wizardspeak."
        "By the way," she added, "I had a heck of a time finding that island. You mentioned something about maps?"
        "Ah, yes." He tottered over to a scroll-filled shelf and began rummaging around, finally pulling down a rather large one and spreading it out on the table. "Your recall is good?"
        "Photographic," she replied, then noticed his quizzical look. "Uh, I don't forget things, don't worry. I just hope every place around here doesn't have cloaking devices."
        "Then this should be simple. That way is north," he pointed through the door, "as we see referred to on the map. Mark well these lines as roads you can see from on high. We are here, in Mystland, at the end of the fFirth of Laun. The great East Road outside leads past the Westshire to Riverdale, at the foot of the Mystic Mountains. South along the chain of mountains you'll find the peak of Eriagon above the lake at the western entrance of Muriah. You may have to force an entrance past the Watcher in the lake, and you must make your own way to the Hall of the Mountain Kings deep inside. Beware the Jabberwauk! If you can, exit on the eastern side and go straight on until you see the great river Ayndruen, then follow it south to Min-Ashtireth. From there, go east again across the river and follow the jagged Mountains of the Shadow around to the left until you come to the Murranon and the outer gates of Maurdur. Once past these, you must walk — enduring the unendurable — through the valley of Udynn to confront the guardians of the inner gates. Then go southeast following the wide Goblin road to Barradour. The Chasm of Doum is over here, on the eastern flank of the Mount Doum."
        "Can't miss it," said Sara. He looked sharply at her. "Really. Maybe I should do a quick suborbital photo recon, if it'll make you happier."
        "Sara," he said, "we delay the inevitable. You know what now must needs be done."
        "You mean, taking you guys' Rings."
        "Aye. And our deaths thereby."
        "I don't really understand why I can't just fly directly to Maurdur and deal with this Soraun right off the bat. I grab His stupid One Ring and He dies. I can chuck that sucker into the volcano right then and there. Won't that end all this 'evil influence' stuff? You all get your Rings back, or whatever, and life goes on. Problem solved."
        Gundolf sat down heavily, shaking his head. "Sara, Sara, Sara. You have so much to learn." He sighed. "The Rings of Power are not so much things as they are places, a focus in space-time where the physical world of mundane reality can interact with the reservoir of spiritual energy that permeates Midgarde. In this way, our minds can direct the transformation of matter — this is the true magic.
         "In trained beings possessed of powerful will, the Rings make manifest the designs of the intellect. They can change the world and exert a powerful influence on lesser minds. The Bearers of such Rings become transformed, existing at once in the realms of both the physical and the spiritual. They cannot die by ordinary means, for the link between the sustaining spiritual power that permeates this world, and their physical bodies, must be severed."
        "Well," said Sara, "Soraun lost His Ring in the first place when Whatsisname cut off His finger. I can do a little instantaneous laser surgery on His pinky and that should do the trick, shouldn't it?"
        "That was only because Soraun was defeated before he had obtained full mastery of the One Ring. There were powerful practitioners of the magical arts arrayed against Him that day, some of them His equal. His body was destroyed, but the Ring was not. His scattered spiritual essence once again took shape in later years, when vigilance waned."
        "Ah." Said Sara, "So He's like a ghost or something."
        "Not entirely. He has assembled a physical presence, for without such He would have no connection to the physical world, and therefore no effect. Pure spirituality is shapeless and empty, lacking substance, warmth, color, touch or any sensation."
        "So is He is, or is He isn't?"
        "Exactly. You learn quickly."
        "Learn what? More wizardspeak? Now I don't have any idea of how I'm supposed to do any of this. I think what you're telling me is that I can't just walk up to Him and have it out. If I blast His body, He'll just pop up again. How do I fight this?"
        "His spiritual substance is invested in His works. If you overturn some of those things He has wrought or controls, you will have engaged Him. He will be forced to contest you, and then you may perhaps defeat Him. Only in defeat will any Ringbearer be made to relinquish his burden, for the Rings of Power seek the most powerful master."
        "And the Rings themselves? What do you mean, they're not a 'thing', but a 'place'."
        "They have a physical manifestation created in the same way that they are used to create physical manifestations. A Ring's 'place' is as an interface in juxtaposition with the designated user at the nexus of materiality and spirituality. Don't you see?"
        "Uh-huh," said Sara, "All the doo-dah day."
        Gundolf looked as exasperated as Sara. He impatiently slipped the Ring from his finger and tossed it to her. She looked surprised as she caught it.
        "That was easy. I thought giving me your Ring was supposed to be a big deal. And you sure don't look any worse off than before."
        "Pay me heed, child. What you hold is but a symbol. Destroy it if you can."
        She held it up between her thumb and index finger, looked closely at it, then gave it an experimental squeeze. It promptly flattened out, though when she released it, it sprang back into its original shape. She placed it in the palm of her hand and squeezed again, with force enough to make diamonds run like water. When she opened her hand, it was unaltered.
        "Springy little devil, isn't it." She turned her back to Gundolf to shield him and focused a withering blast of laser energies on it. It promptly vaporized with a resounding pop in a shower of sparks and smoke.
        "That did it," she said, turning around. Gundolf held up his hand with the Ring on it, none the worse for wear.
        She was impressed. "Neat trick. Maybe we could get a gig in Vegas, if you work on your delivery a little."
        "It is no parlor trick. Its place is with me, and with me it will remain as long as I am its master, by whatever means are necessary. You must defeat me — and each of the others in their turn — to gain possession, as Balbo defeated the Golem with his riddle. Temporary separation is irrelevant, as when I examined the One Ring at Froudo's house yet did not challenge him for its ownership."
        "And," said Sara, "only dropping it into Soraun's volcano can get rid of it, right?"
        "Certainly for the One Ring there is no other suitable forge. But simply dropping It is not by itself enough. It would only revert to Its proper place. It must be carried to Its destruction by Its Master."
        "Ah, now I get it. In the story I read, when Froudo put the Ring on, the Golem jumped him and bit off his ring finger, which means he defeated Froudo for control of It. Then he — the Golem, that is — fell into the lava and that took care of that."
        "It seems to be the principle difference between your story and our reality. Would that it could have been so for us."
        "So now I have to defeat you and Gladariel and Eldron in some way."
        "It will not be difficult," said Gundolf wryly. "All the works and deeds accomplished with our Rings and other means have been turned to dust. We have eschewed their use since the failure of the Companions' quest and so have been able to hold Soraun's domination at bay for a little while. We weaken by the hour. The time has come.
        "Go first unto Eldron who awaits you in the Great Hall. When you have done with him, seek Gladariel in her garden. I will await you here. Fail not! Now, go."

Chapter Fifteen: Le Morte d'Gundolf

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© Patrick Hill, 2000